September 2022 B-BC (before Breast Cancer) – A happy single 39-year-old mother of two of the coolest girls in the world. A full time Logistics Manager, Founder of Melanin MRKT, part time content writer, songwriter, graphic designer and overall creative. I had a million ideas to becoming a millionaire. I look at pictures of myself the summer before my diagnosis and think about the silent cancer spreading through my body. I think about the journey I was on the last two years of my life. Curating a new home for my children. Refining what success means to me. Finally grieving the loss of my best friend who I called Daddy. I had been anticipating my 40th birthday since I turned 38. The unapologetic woman I couldn’t wait to be. Cancer silently looming in my body.
My breast cancer story
I was at work when I first felt the throbbing in my chest. I quickly dismissed it as period pain. I didn’t realize how much it was bothering me until my friend mentioned that I should get it checked out. It had been two weeks. I spent a week trying to find availability at any of my local walk-in clinics. Within that week, a 7cm lump had formed in my breast. After a week of early closures and overcrowding, I decided to just go to emergency. I told my boss that I was going to the hospital where I would wait 8 hours to be seen. They performed an ultrasound on me immediately and then scheduled me back two days later for a mammogram and biopsy. They scheduled a CT scan for the following week, a perturbing week. I began researching breast cancer online. 6 signs, 8 signs, all of which I didn’t have. Perhaps it was an inflamed infection. I began to google “breast cancer breast” and could not find a black one. My breast didn’t look like any of the breasts coming up on the screen. Another space where representation didn’t matter.
“I’m so sorry Nadine, it is breast cancer. You’re going to want to take some notes.” I had been diagnosed with Stage III HER2+ PR/ER – Breast Cancer. In a morbid way I felt like I could handle this. Stage 3 is better than stage 4. My father had passed away 5 years prior with Stage 4 Colon Cancer just 8 months after being diagnosed and now I was heading to Mount Sinai Hospital. Everything was a blur. As a black woman, I’ve never trusted the healthcare system to provide me with the best care and now it would seem that I had no choice. I met with the oncology surgeon and we discussed what my treatment plan would look like. I can do this. I was handling this well. I was researching diets, watching YouTube videos about what to put in my chemo bag. I was talking to God so often I knew I was going to get through this. People might have thought I was putting on a brave face. No, I really am that girl. Then the results of my CT scan came back.
Stage 3 diagnosis had now become stage 4 and the cancer had spread to my lungs. When I heard the oncologist say Palliative, I fell to the ground. It was my 7-year-old and my 4-year old daughters’ lives that passed before my eyes. Who would love them like I love them? Who would take care them? I pour so much into my daughters. I am so conscious of the human beings I am raising and setting out into the world. Who could ever take such meticulous care and why at 39 years old was I being faced with these challenges?
The next month of my life was spent praying and breaking the hearts of my loved ones, one conversation at a time. Some people got a brave face, others may tear but everyone knew we were about to fuck up some breast cancer. I wasn’t going to tell my daughters. My 7-year-old was old enough to remember Papa dying from cancer, and I didn’t want her to worry but their father hasn’t been supportive since my diagnosis. Like many women from all walks of life, a lot of us suffer from the abandonment and lack of support from the men in our lives. My mother stepped up to help with my kids while I was undergoing chemotherapy and has been my main supporter. I could not fight this if I had to worry about the care of my children.
I couldn’t believe breast cancer was going to be a part of my story but I also didn’t want it to be someone else’s story. In my community cancer is generally kept very hush hush. Your auntie got it, beat it, got it again and died. There were no examples of “living with cancer.” None that I had seen. I wanted to share what had happened to me with other women who looked like me. Women more likely to get more aggressive forms of breast cancer at earlier ages. Women whose healthcare systems couldn’t even be bothered to have accurate statistics regarding breast cancer. Women who would need to demand screening earlier because their risks were greater. I wanted women to look at me, see themselves, and get in motion. I would say I am a low key but I felt if I didn’t share my story I was contributing to the narrative. So, I started to share my story. Through news articles, interviews, and public speaking. I use and continue to use my platform to advocate for women of colour to get screened through my #TittyTuesday social media campaign.
I feared wearing a pink ribbon as a scarlet letter. I didn’t want to have to change who I was. Look sad and depressed. Stay inside and hide from the world waiting to die. With one month of treatment down, I decided to throw myself a 40th birthday party. I was going to celebrate this milestone and cancer wasn’t going to take it from me. My community rallied behind me. A Go Fund Me was started to help me with medical costs, which carried me through as my savings slowing decreased. The financial burden of cancer was shocking to me. We think because we live in Canada everything is free. It isn’t. Within one year of diagnosis, I have undergone 13 rounds of chemo, 4 CT scans, 6 Echo tests, faced eviction, food insecurity, job insecurity, test anxiety, anxiety, bouts of depression, bouts of incredible joy, grief, happiness, and grace.
At Stage IV, breast cancer will be a part of my life, but I won’t allow it to take the life I have now away from me. I still plan to fulfill my goals and be a testimony to God’s mercy and glory. Complete my novel, write a screenplay, help black business owners, advocate for black women, be a kick ass mom to my black daughters, and an example of the life you can lead despite this awful diagnosis. I have met so many amazing men and women on this journey. I know it’s not in vain.
I continue everyday to put on a brave face. With faith, love, and joy. I approach each day as a blessing. I’m so happy to be alive for my girls. I just want to make my daughters proud of their mother and how she handled adversity.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come.”
I Want You to Know
Cancer is affecting us more than anyone else. We are being diagnosed with more aggressive canters at later stages in earlier ages, and we have to advocate for ourselves. Get screened, don’t accept no for an answer, and use your voice to fight for all of us as I’m using mine to fight for you.
Diagnosed at 39